Genetically Modified Thinking

I came accross an article recently which helped to catalyse some thinking for me around the concept of Biomimcry, but also lateral vs verticle thinking. Those of you that know me will also know that I have a penchant for Lateral Thinking (De Bono Stylin’) and that I can’t stand seeing organisations/people/companies divert and focus their thinking Vertically when they are simply not ready for it. Bad ideas, bad logic and wasted resources occur when people choose not to invest a simple hour or two in some good, lateral thinking.

Anyways, in the article, it spoke of the current growth of the worlds largest (don’t quote me on that) Genetically Modified Organism (and crops) company, Monsanto’s. It discussed how the company had gone from a stock price of $US8 in 2002, to the current price of $US104.84 in December this year. Thats a 1000x return on your money. It has a PE ratio of 58.6, about two points higher than google, the naughties market darling.


The interesting thing about the company, is that it sells GMO crops (mainly commodity crops such as corn, soya beans, cotton and canola) that don’t end up on your table directly because of the large (predominatly bad) PR against GM crops. Instead, they sell commodity crops which are further down the value chain, and so don’t directly end up on the kitchen table for dinner.

What’s interesting about all this, is that GMO crops are simply the next verticle step in a long history of verticle thinking which has taken place in the farming and food procution industry. What started as a simply way for one person to reduce the amount of time they spent hunting for food, has now turned into a highly complex, intensly logistical, process that feeds the population of whole countries. And yet, our farming techniques have been delivering diminishing returns for some time now, as soil quality and reliance on chemical growth addititives kill off any ‘natural’ growth which may occur. Essentially, we are now pumping 4000 Kilojules of petro-chemical energy into our crops to produce only 1000 Kilojules worth of food energy (Biomimicry, Benyus) to the permanent detriment of the soil.

So my question is….at what stage do we stop and smell the crop paddocks? To become a more sustainable economy we must find a way to reduce our dependance on fossil fuel. With our current line of thinking in the agriculture industry, our verticle thinking, we seem only determined to continuously improve our chemical mix to kill the new strand of ‘super-bug.’ I say, lets have some lateral thinking about what a new crop production method might look like… 

Pythons and the business world

I am currently watching a David Attenborough documentary on reptiles which is showing on Channel 9 tonight. There are many little interesting things, including the little Armadillo Lizard, which protects itself by biting it’s own tail, thus exposing a sharp exoskeleton. Also, there was video footage and information about a python, which ate a deer. Something similar to that below…


When watching it, I was struck by how many similarities there were between a python digesting an animal that was far to big for it, and a large company that was consuming another company through a merger or acquisition. A few of them are below.

 1) The pythons heart grows to a size about 40% larger than it normal as the creature digests its food. Similarly, a corporate will increase the number of passionate people involved within it’s bowels when a merger happens. Unfortunately for the business, and fortunately for the python, the heart does shrink back to normal onve the digesting is done. In many mergers, the people who cared passionately about their respective companies, end up facing being somewhat jaded by the whole experience. They end up leaving for greener pastures, leaving behind a smaller heart in what is now a much larger company.

2) The python is pretty defenseless whilst it eats its prey. It cannot breathe, save for it’s windpipe, which pushes itself out of the reptiles mouth to allow for air to be brought in. Large companies, too, are quite vulnerable whilst in the midst of a takeover bid. Private Equity raiders, competitors and even new start-ups generate new activity to take advantage of the new opportunities that will be standard once the merger has gone ahead. For many companies, it can be hard to adjust to  the new way of operating, but many of those people left outside the takeover are quite aware of what to expect from the market once it settles again after the ‘digestion.’ They move faster into a position to take advantage of the soon to be new surroundings.

 3) The Liver of the python doubles in size to help digest the prey, as does the number of external helpers and number of Learning and Development people present in a company going through a merge. I’m a great fan of consulting, and think it has a very real place in our business landscape. But, be aware, just like the python expanding it’s liver and draining it’s body of energy consulting fees can leave a company bereft of excess funds used to actually make stuff happen once the merger has finished.

Finally, there were many other similarities, but the thing that struck me most was that once the python digests the prey it may not have to eat again for months, or even a year. Many companies tend to work the same way. They feel hungry for growth, are tiring of the ‘business as usual’ paradigm that often sets in when a mission or strategy dwindles in allure. Once the ‘head,’ or the CEO office, decides that it is in fact hungry the business sets out to consume a new company for energy. Once sated, they sit for a long time after, maybe years, running down the people and energy that existed there during the ‘take-over’ years. Then, they saddle up again and go through the whole, draining process of swallowing another acquisition for yet more growth and energy. Some companies, such as Macquire Bank, seem to be forever hungry as they have teams of people specialised in digesting large takeovers and mergers.

Is this the way we should function as an economy, business and society?

Biomimicry in action: Sour Grapes and the wine industry

How does a winery use Biomimicry to great effect to continuously keep soil quality, and thus wine quality, high? It lets weeds run rampant!

I was watching Uncorked, the Stuart MacGill show on Lifestyle, the other day (yes, hold your laughter) and was happily shocked by how much the wine industry has begun adopting biomimicry techniques in an effort to create full bodied, great tasting wines.

The winery Battle of Bosworth, deliberately lets the weed, Sour Sob (oxalis pes caprae), grow between it’s wine rows to ‘out-compete’ other weeds and then turn into a nutritious, organic mulch in the summer. The plant grows in reverse season to the grape vines, which means that when the Sour Sob is growing, the grapes are in the off-season, lying dormant. When the grapes begin maturing, and enter into the growth season, the weed naturally dies off, providing the excess nutrients the vines required to produce the grapes which eventually go into one of the better wines in the region. The owner loves the weed so much, he has adorned his bottles with it’s image.

Battle of Bosworth

Fantastic! No chemicals. Less water use. Better product. Using something that…shock horror…grows naturally WITHOUT COST. I’ll be buying a bottle or two – call it research. 😛

Wolf man and Biomimicry

I caught a fantastic documentary on Discovery today, which related to the book I’m reading at the moment, Biomimicry.

The doco was about a guy named Shaun Ellis, who left his family and life in society to raise a pack of wolves in captivity. It’s a long story, one that is better capturedhere by ABC news.

Shaun Ellis - Wolfman
The interesting part to me, was the amount that Ellis had learnt from the wolves, and how he was applying this to life in civilisation. One such example – for years we have been shooting wolves for encroaching on the land of farmers. This has always been understandable – given they often kill young livestock, which costs the farmer financially. In Poland, where a law was recently passed preventing the shooting of wolves, farmers have become financially ruined by the constant presence of the animals. Ellis, convinced there was a better way to prevent the wolves journeying to the farms than just shooting them, put his knowledge to work and came up with an innovative solution.

He went to a farmer who had approached him for help, inspected the property and investigated the wolf pack which dominated the territory. Once done, we created a CD of wolves howling in a ‘defensive/territorial’ way. He got the farmer to play this – once daily at dusk over his farm using a normal CD player and an amplifier. End story – the wolves have not attacked in months.

It raises a great many questions. But the theory behind listening to the problem and then solving it as nature would is immensely powerful. The very reason the wolves have a defensive/territorial call in the first place is to ware off other packs. Makes perfect sense. The scientists (boffins) applaud the idea in theory, but require more specific research to be convinced. Sigh.